Wednesday, August 26, 2009

From The Times
August 25, 2009
Anne Fine deplores 'gritty realism' of modern children's books
Jack Malvern

Former Children's Laureate Anne Fine - pic Colin Atherley

Once upon a time, in the spiffing 1950s, characters in children’s books enjoyed wonderful adventures after which they all lived happily ever after. By contrast, reality weighs heavily on today’s young readers, a former children’s laureate has warned.
Anne Fine said that cosy tales in which children’s characters looked forward to future adventures had been replaced by gritty stories that offered no hope for their weary protagonists.Contemporary literature is dauntingly bleak, with depressing endings that do little to inspire.
“In the Fifties, when a strong child was dealing with difficult circumstances, there was always a rescue at the end of the book and it was always a middle-class rescue,” she said.
The child would win a scholarship to Roedean or something, and go on to do very well. That was felt to be unrealistic and so there was a move away from that. Books for children became much more concerned with realism, or what we see as realism.
“But where is the hope? How do we offer them hope within that? It may be that realism has gone too far in literature for children. I am not sure that we are opening doors for children who read these books, or helping them to develop their aspirations

The bestselling writer made her comments at Compelling Novels, Vulnerable Children, an event organised by the umbrella group Children in Scotland for the Edinburgh Book Festival.
She told The Times that she did not wish to see a return to the standards of Enid Blyton, but that she was worried about the effect that gloomy books can have on children. “I can’t see how we roll back from this without returning to the sort of fiction that is no longer credible — books with a Blyton-ish view of things.”

Her concerns were not shared by Anthony Browne, the current Children’s Laureate, who believes that a lot of children’s literature remains upbeat. “There are both types of endings, happier and unhappier. I prefer open endings. I don’t think we are living in an age of depressing, dark endings. If you look at Jacqueline Wilson, she does deal in gritty realism, but her books don’t lack aspiration.”
He recently changed the ending to his forthcoming book — Me and You, a retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears in which Goldilocks comes from an impoverished background — so that the ending was less miserable. “My original version had Goldilocks being chased out of the bears’ house and her ending up on bleak, dark streets. I decided to give it a more ambiguous ending, so now she is running toward something that may or may not be her mother.”
The full piece at The Times online.

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